The Medical Support Group, National Alliance on Maternal Health and Human Rights (NAMHHR), Action India and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA) Delhi sent a joint letter to the Delhi Government, the Union government, and Municipal Corporations of Delhi on May 7, about the continuing issues being faced by pregnant women and their families in accessing maternity care in hospitals under the respective governments.
The letter pointed out that on April 22, Delhi High Court had issued orders to ensure that pregnant women have timely, proper and affordable access to reproductive health services. The Health and Family Welfare Department of the Government of Delhi had assured the Court that arrangements had been made to provide assistance to pregnant women, particularly in their last trimester, including arranging transportation for pre-delivery, delivery and post-delivery. The Department had assured the court that a helpline would be set up to provide assistance to pregnant women. The court had also directed appointing a nodal officer in every COVID-19 hotspot whose contact number is made public for facilitating access to services for pregnant women.
However, the letter stated that, “Pregnant women and their family members continue to face difficulties in accessing essential health services, such as denial of care in government hospitals, no proper referrals, informal fees, rude language and difficulties in accessing government ambulance services for transportation for the same. The helpline for pregnant women mandated by the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi has not been implemented.”
It also highlighted several instances where pregnant women were either denied treatments at various hospitals under both Delhi government and central government, or faced other issues. One pregnant woman was denied care and ill-treated at three facilities despite intervention by an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to the Health Minister of Delhi. On the evening of May 3, at around 6:00 PM, the woman who had a history of pregnancy induced hypertension, sought health services when she had another such attack.
Also read: COVID-19: ‘Treat Women’s Health as Top Priority,’ Delhi HC tells State Government
She was turned away from Kasturba hospital and Jag Pravesh hospital twice without a proper examination and referred to a higher centre or transport. Jag Pravesh hospital informed her that they could only take cases booked with them. Despite intervention by OSD Shaleen Mitra, they did not admit her and told her that she was arguing too much and should therefore leave. She was then taken to Lady Hardinge Hospital by private transport where again she was told that she could not be attended to because she was not booked with them. With assistance from a senior doctor, who was reached through a personal contact, she was finally admitted there and had a pre-term birth.
The organisations said in the letter, “We would also like to bring your attention to Orders, Guidelines and communication from the Central and Delhi government which define maternity care services as essential health services, mandate continuity of essential non- Covid health services, and direct hospitals to ensure that no woman seeking maternity care shall be denied admission or treatment on any pretext, in public or private hospitals.”
The Medical Support Group, NAMHHR, Action India and JSA Delhi have made several recommendations to the governments, which if accepted will make the situation much easier for pregnant women and their families. They recommended that a mechanism be set up for coordination between hospitals under the Central government, Delhi government, and Municipal Corporations for providing care to pregnant women, and that the hospitals stop admitting only the patients who had been previously registered with them. The letter said, “Hospitals have been refusing cases not booked/ registered with them. An order must be passed directing hospitals to accept, admit and treat patients even if they are not follow-up cases in the hospital where they have reached for care. No pregnant woman approaching a health facility should be turned away without care.”
The other recommendations made in the letter include expansion of the bed and workforce capacity of the currently functional maternity wards in government hospitals, facilities of transport for the patients to reach hospitals, return home, and travel between hospitals if necessary, and a dedicated non-COVID empowered helpline that helps people in real-time.